In an era in which our country’s leaders are often exposed for their lack of integrity, it is refreshing to spend some time in the company of a man who values integrity both in business and in his private life. Mandie Wentzel spoke to Ignatius Sehoole, CEO of KPMG South Africa
Shortly after Valentine’s Day this year, KPMG South Africa voluntarily elected to cease performing non-audit-related services to its JSE-listed audit clients. This was a bold and brave move in a business environment in which non-audit related services represent a lot of revenue for audit firms. I was interested to meet the man who was instrumental in KPMG South Africa’s decision.
Ignatius Sehoole, CEO of KPMG South Africa, has a history of serving the profession. You might recall that he was the Executive President of SAICA for nine years, until 2009. During his tenure at SAICA, he was instrumental in SAICA’s journey of fast-tracking the transformation of the South African accounting profession through the initiation of the Thuthuka programme.
As the captain at the helm of KPMG South Africa, he is currently steering the firm on its ‘journey towards being the most trusted and trustworthy firm in the profession’. Ignatius embodies ethical leadership through his belief that a leader ought to demonstrate conduct for common good in all situations – whether you find yourself in a business environment or so-called private capacity. Leaders are forerunners and as such have a responsibility to set an example of ethical conduct even outside of the formal business arena.
Ignatius states that by joining KPMG, you are making a lifestyle choice. KPMG South Africa’s vision states that they want to be the most trusted and trustworthy firm. A firm is simply a collective of its colleagues, and therefore each employee needs to buy into this vision in order to bring it to fruition. This implies that each employee needs to be the most trusted and trustworthy person, otherwise the collective cannot be the most trusted and trustworthy firm. Ignatius is clear that this vision drives the recruitment as well as disciplinary process, and individuals who have acted without integrity in their personal relationships have parted ways with the firm. Like Ignatius says: ‘Your behaviour in your private life is the best demonstration of your true character – and therefore if you cheat outside business, we do not wait for you to cheat inside our business as well.’
KPMG South Africa’s values drive its vision, and all employees in the firm are empowered to champion the values in every aspect of their daily roles. Ignatius stressed the importance of rewarding employees who are living the values and who are in essence driving the firm’s vision. Employees who are found not to be living the KPMG values, despite their excellent performance in other technical areas will find their overall performance assessment to reflect this, and ultimately this will negatively impact their performance reward. Similarly, the KPMG South Africa recognition scheme rewards colleagues for their exceptional demonstration of living our values. KPMG South Africa’s performance management programme intentionally supports the firm’s values and drives its vision.
Ignatius believes that leaders play a pivotal role in creating an ethical organisational culture where employees feel compelled to speak up when values are violated but also feel assured that they will not be victimised in any way. As important as the structures for whistleblowing is, the leader’s cultivation of a culture where employees are encouraged regularly to voice their opinions to leaders is critical for Ignatius. All levels of employees are empowered to address senior leaders and responses to all matters raised are ensured.
Ethics, however, is much broader than the absence of fraud. Ignatius referred to ‘our people’ throughout our interview, and it is clear that he appreciates all KPMG colleagues as the most important asset in his organisation.
Colleagues functioning within an ethical culture tend to be more productive, loyal to the firm and its vision, and overall have a more positive outlook on life and business. This positivity permeates every team and in turn impacts the organisation as a whole.
eople who perform better result in teams performing better, and their resultant organisations are healthy and perform better.
Ignatius sees the cultivation of good-quality relationships in their organisation as a pivotal role for an ethical leader. He wants all the different communities in his organisation to feel that they are treated with integrity, fairness, openness, compassion and respect. This relationship is built by demonstrating that you as the leader and the organisation as a whole, value the various communities’ beliefs. Ignatius strives for inclusivity as opposed to mere diversity – embracing and valuing each other’s differences – so that every individual feels part of the whole, which contributes to a healthy ethical organisational culture.
Leaders have a profound impact on the mindset of their followers, and Ignatius experienced this first-hand in his career. During his tenure at SAICA, a seed was planted by the then chairman of the SAICA board, Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, in Ignatius’ heart regarding the need to do all things at all times for the common good. Under the tutelage of Professor Nkuhlu, Ignatius experienced the value of this refreshing ethical leadership style. This example has inspired him to take the road less travelled and his drive for ‘the common good’ is clear in his decisions as CEO of the first firm in the profession in South Africa to voluntarily cease performing non-audit-related services to its JSE-listed audit clients.
Ignatius takes his role as an ethical leader seriously, and his love for his people is inspiring. At the end of the interview, I felt like standing up and saluting this man with ‘Oh Captain, my Captain’. Ignatius has impacted our profession (in line with the firm’s values) for future generations ‘For Better’ (the last of KPMG’s five values). We need more inspiring leaders who empower their people to stand up with courage, make bold moves, and do not hesitate to make difficult business decisions for the common good.
Mandie Wentzel, Project Manager: Practice and Ethics at SAICA